Empirical Findings to Positive Education

One major empirical finding in support for positive learning techniques has been the positive effect of praise-based discipline techniques in classrooms. Elizabeth Hurlock studied the day-to-day improvement of students who were praised, reproached, and ignored. Students were divided into these groups in addition to a control group after they had been administered an arithmetic test, and were subsequently tested each day over an additional period of four days. After the first testing session, the control group was tested in a separate room from the other groups. In the treatment room, the "praise" group of students were invited to the front of the room and praised for their work as well as encouraged to do better. The "reproach" group was called up and reproved for their poor performance, while the ignored group received no recognition. Some significant findings include the fact that the praised group experienced the most initial improvement, followed by the reproach group and then the ignored group, while no improvement was seen in the control group. The ignored and control group also showed a decrease in accuracy towards the end of the testing period. When children were grouped according to academic achievement into the categories "superior", "average" and "inferior" after the first test, praise was the most influential incentive for all students, though it was most effective for the "inferior" group. As a whole, the results suggested that praise was the most accurate incentive regardless of age, sex, initial ability, or accuracy.

While empirical evidence supports the positive effects of praise, there exists a debate regarding whether the jigsaw classroom method is successful in various areas. Two studies by Christopher Bratt, who was interested in the jigsaw classroom's ability to improve prejudice based on ethnicity, examined the effects of the jigsaw classroom method on intergroup relations; yet, no positive effects were found. The first studied the method's effect on majority members' outgroup attitudes, attitudes towards school empathy, and intergroup friendships by examining two jigsaw classrooms and two regular classrooms of multi-ethnic 6th graders. The second measured common ingroup identity in the majority sample and outgroup attitudes in the minority sample in addition to the previous variables in a sample of 8th-10th graders in 46 multi-ethnic classrooms, utilizing a matched pair design between jigsaw and regular classrooms. No evidence of any significant effects of the jigsaw method was found in the second study, while outgroup attitudes improved in study 1. Yet, Bratt believed the findings from study 1 were spurious, arguing that the fact that one of the classrooms in study 1 was taught by two teachers while the others had one teacher may have influenced the results.

A study by Walker & Crogan yielded evidence that supported the utility of the jigsaw classroom. The study investigated the relationship between teaching methods such as cooperative learning and the jigsaw classroom and outcomes in academic performance, self-esteem, attitude of school, attitude of peers, and racial prejudice. The study was designed to investigate solely the jigsaw classroom method, yet one of the teachers altered her mode of instruction due to the behavior of disruptive students so that it resembled cooperative learning. As a result, the experimenters modified their objectives, believing they could compare the effectiveness of cooperation, necessary in both methods, and task interdependence, characteristics only of the jigsaw classroom. They concluded that academic performance, liking of peers, and racial prejudice improved under the jigsaw classroom method while cooperative learning appeared to intensify intergroup tension, yet major methodological issues may cast doubt on the validity of these findings. Many of the classrooms did not adhere very strictly to proper plan for implementation of the jigsaw classroom and the researchers had to abandon their original design. Also, the fact that one of the teachers had to forgo the jigsaw classroom method due to student misbehavior is telling. Bratt argues that studies professing results that support improved intergroup relations are similarly flawed.

The Circle of Courage curriculum is, yet, another practical attempt for implementing positive learning techniques. Deborah Espiner and Diane Guild monitor the progress and success of Mt. Richmond Special School after implementing the Circle of Courage curriculum and Response Ability Pathways (RAP) program. The Circle of Courage is an educational philosophy based on Native American values. Belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity are four core values that are intended to integrate Western and indigenous cultures. The school managers established a positive learning environment based on these two programs, which were designed for dynamic interaction between teachers and students. Before launching the actual classroom environment, five months were taken to introduce new learning methods to school staff and students. In general, participants acknowledged that new modules brought positive impact in the school. One recognizable outcome was that RAP training facilitated the connection between teachers and challenging students. Additionally, new positive education methods also led teachers to discover the potentials of their pupils.

When examining programs that attempt to help children overcome behavioral issues that prevent them from displaying their full potential, research has provided support for the efficacy of PBS. A study by Barrett and Lewis-Palmer investigated the statewide implementation of PBS in 467 schools. The results indicated that overall, the program had been successfully implemented and displayed high fidelity to the theoretical model. Elementary schools reported 43% less office discipline referrals (ODRs) per day, while middle schools reported 37% less ODRs per day and K-(8-12) schools reported 72% less ODRs per day when compared with the national averages. Schools also demonstrated significant reductions in suspension rates in as little as one year. Another study by Muscott and Mann examined the first cohort of 28 New Hampshire early childhood education programs and K-12 schools that had implemented PBS in accordance with the directive of the Department of Education. Within three months after the program was introduced, 54% of schools met the standards of successful PBS implementation and 88% of schools had done so two years after implementation. In terms of behavior issues, a school was considered successful if 80-90% of elementary students and 70-80 middle school students received less than 2 ODRs during a school year. After the first year, 70% of schools has achieved these results. Between the first and second years, the schools reduced ODRs by 28% collectively.